The Final Year

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Final Year Movie Poster Image
Revealing political documentary has a few intense moments.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film's position is that the Obama administration emphasized using diplomacy and dialogue to solve problems, and that, in the 2016 election, those ideals were crushed. Whether you agree will affect how you interpret that angle.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The movie presents Obama's foreign policy team as decent, if flawed, people who are moved and honored to serve their country in whatever ways they can. It's exciting to see a woman -- Samantha Power -- in such a high, respected position. National Security Advisor Susan Rice (a woman of color) is briefly interviewed.


Brief, disturbing footage of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. Discussion of the crisis in Syria. Dead cockroach shown. Tense, stressful, upsetting situations.


A use of "f---ing," a use of "a--hole," and a use of "damn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Final Year is a documentary that follows President Barack Obama's foreign policy team as they struggle to wrap up as many loose ends as possible before the end of his eight-year term. Obama's supporters will find it a revealing but difficult movie (it leaves off less with a sense of accomplishment than with a crushing reality check), and his detractors probably won't bother at all. Expect brief but disturbing footage of Hiroshima after the WWII nuclear bombings, discussion of the crisis in Syria, and some tense, stressful situations. Language includes single uses of "f---ing," "a--hole," and "damn."

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What's the story?

In THE FINAL YEAR, President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team scramble to accomplish a few more goals -- and put out a few more fires -- before the end of his eight-year term. Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes travel the world, holding diplomatic meetings to help solve problems and especially trying to find ways to ease the crisis in Syria. As 2016 winds to a close, there's only so much time left to check off all the things they want to accomplish. And then the November election arrives, and with it an unexpected result. The team members may have done the best job they could, but they're left facing an uncertain future.

Is it any good?

Filmmaker Greg Barker's documentary is both an inspiring portrait of an American leader and a shattering reality check (depending on your politics, of course). With unprecedented access to Obama's foreign policy team in 2016, The Final Year begins with messages of diplomacy and hope as the president's team tries to find peaceful, humanitarian ways to communicate with others and seek solutions. But, as Rhodes explains in one scene, they couldn't foresee a "growing authoritarianism and nationalism."

Barker's camera gets into some very personal spaces, especially when it comes to Rhodes and Power, both of whom seem proud and moved by the privilege of being able to do their work. They struggle with too much to do and too little time, and the movie effectively finds the humanity behind the duty. Briefer interviews with Kerry and Obama himself are also thoughtful and bittersweet. As the film reaches its conclusion, however, viewers who supported Obama are likely to find the movie terribly crushing and bleak. And viewers who opposed him? They probably won't be interested in watching it at all.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Final Year's ultimate message. What is Obama's legacy? Did his accomplishments make a lasting impact?

  • How do you think this movie would have been different (or seemed different) if the 2016 election outcome had been different?

  • Does this movie make serving in public office look like a worthwhile profession? Do women have important roles? Are these people role models?

  • What did you learn about the U.S. government from the movie?

  • How did you feel by the end of the movie? Why?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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